After months of grappling with province-wide education restrictions, Labrador students — and their largely exhausted parents — could see relief in September, regional MHAs say.
What works on the island doesn't work in more remote parts of the province, Torngats MHA Lela Evans told CBC News on Tuesday.
As students hunkered down to study from home computers in March, treacle-slow Internet speeds, even in more populated areas of Labrador, made online classes an impossibility for some students, she said.
"We have not had investment in our infrastructure that is successful," Evans said, referring specifically to Internet connectivity along the north coast. "We have not had things that other people in the province have access to."
Her concerns were previously echoed by families across Labrador struggling with virtual classrooms.
Spotty Internet connections also mean the province's $20-million earmarked for September spending on laptops and other distance learning equipment won't be of much use, she said.
Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper pointed out one potential back-to-school bright side.
The province's return-to-school plan announced Monday, which designates in-person learning as the ideal scenario, allows for that in-class instruction to be considered on a regional basis. That means an outbreak on the island won't necessarily send kids in Labrador packing.
"The premise is that even if we have [COVID-19 cases] in St. John's, kids probably still go to school in Makkovik or in Happy Valley-Goose Bay," he said.
Slew of hardships
The regionalized model was championed by the province in Monday's report as a way to provide "consistency, stability and equity" for students and avoid province-wide closures.
It could act as beacon for a region with increased infrastructure difficulties in recent days, including Air Canada's decision to end many of its flight routes to Labrador and long wait times for ferry reservations along the north coast.
Woodward Group, which operates the Kamutik W that serves six northern communities, said in a statement Thursday that passenger capacity has been severely curtailed by Transport Canada restrictions, and that some passengers "won't be able to move" between ports.
That leaves many Labradorians facing increased travel costs.
Evans said the disparity between opportunities in remote communities and populated areas, in terms of travel, education and the cost of living, has only been highlighted by COVID-19.
"People are getting tired of hearing about it, but this pandemic is really showing the problems that we're facing," Evans said. "In terms of the internet speed, in terms of food security, in terms of all the resources."
On Thursday, the province announced a one-time $250 pandemic relief grant for households in nine Labrador communities to offset some of the incurred costs of COVID-19 restrictions.